Communicating with teens, tweens, and even some of their elementary aged counterparts in the digital age can be challenging. Accustomed to rapid, sometimes immediate feedback from the myriad of electronic devices at their fingertips, their attention span and interest level are often short and can make engaging them in any topic a struggle.
When the topic is science, a subject that many in this age group see as something to be endured, the challenge is magnified by a range of factors including: bad experiences in previous science classes, a societal view that science is "hard," a lack of confidence in themselves, and others. In economically depressed areas, the effect can be pronounced due to a lack of resources and exposure in their normal school curriculum.
A group of MCL staff members and MRI faculty members, along with MRSEC students and Kristin Dreyer, Program Director for Education & Outreach for the Center for Nanoscale Science, have been working together for the past two years to take on this challenge and bring science to economically challenged kids of central Pennsylvania at a level that intrigues their interest and makes science fun. The group chose to do this with youth from the Centre County Youth Services Bureau by using a topic that is of interest to the kids – in this case, the very electronics that captivate their attention on a daily basis – cell phones, tablets, and hand-held gaming devices.
Through a series of interactive activities and discussions, some created by MRSEC researchers in partnership with the Franklin Institute and others through in-house development by staff members, attendees and their mentors were exposed to the technology that makes these devices work. They learned about accelerometers and screen orientation, liquid crystals, color displays, signal transmission, binary code, and more.
Beyond these sessions, staff have supported programs like "Take our Daughters and Sons to Work," Upward Bound Math and Science and Penn State’s Science-U summer camps. Overall, the group engaged 206 attendees (youth and mentors) during the 2013/14 academic year and plans to continue supporting this type of programming in the future.
Commitment to educating youth and society in general about science is what motivates and encourages these staff members to volunteer their time with these projects. It is the group’s hope that their involvement will in some way foster an interest, or at least an appreciation for science and an understanding that science is a part of our everyday lives. If this sounds like something you would enjoy helping with, please contact MCL's outreach.